West Palm Beach wetlands-based water reclamation program: sustainable water management via indirect potable water reuse and natural system restoration

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The city of West Palm Beach has experienced stress on its water supply as have many South Florida cities. However, the city is unique in that it is one of the few utilities in South Florida that still utilizes surface water for its primary water supply. The wetlands-based water reclamation program (WBWRP) was developed to reduce the city’s dependence on the regional surface water supply system and to provide recharge that increases the surficial aquifer water supply. The benefits of this program have included such items as wetland restoration, indirect potable water reuse, and lake augmentation. This paper will give the reader an overview of the WBWRP, summarize efforts taken to develop the design, including the pilot testing, present water quality data from the startup of the program, and review benefits of this type of program and how it can be applied to other utilities.

In the 1890s, Henry Flagler came to Palm Beach and began purchasing land. Across theintracostal, he bought a strip of land that stretched from Lake Worth to Clear Lake becoming West Palm Beach. The city of West Palm Beach was established in 1894. During the same time, Henry Flagler developed the original water system to serve the historic Royal Poinciana Hotel.  In 1927, a new filtration plant was completed, expanding the capacity during a period when the
population was quadrupling. The city purchased the plant in 1955 and has continued to expand and operate the plant. The water supply lakes, Mangonia and Clear Lake, were the original source of the city’s water supply in the 1920s and continue to provide water today. (West Palm Beach, 2006)

However, when the city experiences water shortages, it relies on supplemental source water from Lake Okeechobee which has high nutrient concentrations that have periodically led to algae blooms impacting the finished water taste and odor. For 15 years, the city has been developing, and recently implemented, a water reclamation program to improve the sustainability of the area’s water supply and water quality. The project applies highly-treated wastewater to 1,500
acres of natural wetlands.

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